From 'Late Night' to Google: Are talented women their own worst enemy?

“Why don’t we have more female stand-up comedians?"

The radio was buzzing Monday morning about that question, still brewing after Stephen Colbert’s much-deserved ascension to host of “Late Night.”

Now, I’m all for more women running the show everywhere (including this nation — are you listening, Hillary Rodham Clinton?), but in a week in which the nation’s elite colleges are releasing snapshots of their newly admitted classes, I wonder if the question on the radio shouldn’t be:

“How many of you accomplished young women will head toward computer science, tech, finance or business — where scholarships, mentoring, internships and well-paid jobs (and, some would say, true decision-making careers) really exist?”

Nothing against funny women, but what about women in charge in this 21st century world of ours?

As the guy at Google who does the hiring (about 100 jobs a week!), told the New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman over the weekend:

"The first thing Google looks for is ‘general cognitive ability — the ability to learn things and solve problems.’ … I’m not saying you have to be some terrific coder, but … you have to be able to think in a formal and logical and structured way.… I told [a prospective intern] they are much better off being a B student in computer science than an A+ student in English because it signals a rigor in your thinking and a more challenging course load.”

Sure, there’s progress:

“We are starting to see a shift,” Telle Whitney, president of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, explained to the San Francisco Chronicle, which added that UC Berkeley, Stanford and a handful of other universities have experienced an uptick in the number of female computer science students, coinciding with a re-imagining of computer science classes, especially introductory ones.

But we (all) have to be open to it too.

Recently, as I drove some high school students to a speech and debate tournament, several of the girls told me they “liked math and science.” Great, I responded. “So you’re thinking about a tech-type major or career?”

Oh no, I was told, “we’re not that good at math.”

Oh. I thought that sort of self-deprecating thinking had ended with my generation (as this journalist was ruefully reminded, lunching recently with her still-inspiring 90-year-old high school biology teacher.)

Hillary Clinton has seen it from both sides, as Times staffer Maeve Reston wrote the other day:

“Too many young women are harder on themselves than circumstances warrant,” said Clinton.... “Whenever I would say to a young woman, ‘I want you to do this. I want you to take on this extra responsibility. I want you to move up,’ almost invariably they would say ‘Do you think I can?’ or ‘Do you think I’m ready?’”

“When I’ve asked a young man if he wants to move up, he goes: ‘How high?’ ‘How fast?’ ‘When do I start?’ ... There is just a hesitancy still about women’s worth and women’s work that we’re going to have to continue to address.”

So, women of the Class of 2018 — as they say in Comedy Improv, it’s never “No, but.”

The response that keeps you going is always “Yes, and!”

Go for it.


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Sara Lessley is a freelance journalist and editing coach in Los Angeles.

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